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Page last updated at 12:27 GMT, Friday, 25 September 2009 13:27 UK

Keane full of surprises

Jonathan Pearce
By Jonathan Pearce
BBC football commentator

Roy Keane simply isn't the man you expect to meet.

Roy Keane
Keane took over as Ipswich manager in April this year

Told to be at Portman Road for 7.30 am for our BBC TV interview, I anticipated a prickly reception from the former Manchester United fire-breather. After all, his Ipswich Town side is without a win so far this season and lies second bottom in the Championship.

He also buckled under pressure as manager of Sunderland and quit after a downward spiral of introspective self-doubt, if you believe the sort of acidic whispers that corrode English football.

But instead, walking punctually into the Portman Road boardroom, immaculately groomed and with a purposeful stride came a welcoming man who was confident with his answers, forthright and compelling company.

All around us was the evidence of Ipswich Town history. The six-times Premier League champion would have seen, over my shoulder, a bronze bust of Sir Bobby Robson. Outside in the corridors of power hang old newspaper montages of Robson's FA Cup and Uefa Cup winners, Sir Alf Ramsey's title-winning side and the hugely influential Cobbold family.

There is a lot to live up to at Ipswich. Keane appreciates that, but it doesn't faze him. There is a lot of pressure on him because of who he is. He knows there are people waiting for him to fold.

"Don't believe what you read in the papers about me. That's not the real Roy Keane," he says.

Perhaps I am learning a little about the actual man behind the legend, though, as we talk.

He understands that a club can be haunted by the ghosts of past successes because he experienced the same at Manchester United and Celtic. It's a help not a hindrance for him because he and his players know what is expected of them.

He's learning from the mistakes he made at Sunderland where big-name signings flopped and perhaps he didn't deal as well as he should have done with dressing-room or boardroom politics.


He's ready to listen to his players. "I'm learning from my players and about them every day," he insists. "They're working harder. The signs have been good in the last few weeks." He's optimistic even though the first win of the season has been a long time coming. But he has reason to be.

His jigsaw pieces are beginning to fit. New signings Liam Rosenior and Carlos Edwards are paired in an effective-looking pacey right-side combination. Grant Leadbitter, who like Edwards, followed the manager from the Stadium of Light, will score goals from central midfield.

Results haven't mirrored performances from the very first day when they bombarded Coventry in the second half but came away with nothing after early defensive errors.

"We can't keep giving away the sort of goals we have been," he agrees before refusing to rule out an interest in Sol Campbell should the England defender be able to sign for another club having walked away from Notts County.

Keane hints at bringing Campbell to Ipswich

Never afraid of speaking his mind as Manchester United's "prawn sandwich" brigade and his Old Trafford team-mates discovered, he's happy to defend Campbell's actions.

"I admire people who are big enough to make brave decisions. Sol could have just sat on his contract. There are plenty of players doing that," he told the Friday press conference.

There are a couple of self-deprecating jokes and always that County Cork twinkle in the corner of his piercing eyes as they grip you. He is an engaging man, a man of fascinating contradictions and hidden depths.

Ipswich v Nottingham Forest
Ipswich drew 1-1 with Nottingham Forest in their last home game

If he has lost himself in the past blundering through the caverns of doubt and despair with rampaging anger never too far away, there is no sign of that now.

He is humble enough to have felt "honoured" to be invited into the Sir Bobby Robson memorial in Durham, realistic enough to know that Ipswich "have a long long way to go", optimistic enough to point out though that they lie "only nine points outside the play-off positions", and now content enough to tell his players to "enjoy their football".

"No-one likes losing. It hurts!" That sounds more like the old Keane of Highbury tunnel bust-ups and red cards. But he qualified the remark again by insisting his players must enjoy every second of each game.

He is a more patient man these days. He understands that on the touchline he can't be the whirling dervish he was in central midfield. There is a likeable calm and dignity about him that suggests he will succeed.

Robson didn't get into the top half of the table in his first four years. He needed time.

Keane looking forward to Robson tribute

But for the last 10 years of his reign, he was only out of the top six once. For Keane, who is loving life in Suffolk, there are no bold predictions that he can emulate that past record. He's too much of a realist.

He knows he'll never be held in the same affection as Robson or Sir Alf at Ipswich. He understands that the millstone of his playing successes will always hang heavy around his managerial neck. But he's up for the challenge. Gone is the world weary, haggard figure that left Sunderland. He's always been full of surprises and he may yet produce a few more.

I went to see Roy Keane in trepidation. I came away having thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Ipswich v Newcastle is live on BBC2 and the BBC Sport website (UK users only) from 1705 BST on Saturday.

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see also
Robson clubs ready to pay tribute
25 Sep 09 |  Championship
Sir Bobby gone but never forgotten
22 Sep 09 |  Football
Keane eager to learn from errors
09 Aug 09 |  Ipswich
Managers pleased by Keane return
24 Apr 09 |  Football
Ipswich's bold ambition
23 Apr 09 |  Ipswich
Keane sets Ipswich promotion goal
23 Apr 09 |  Ipswich
Keane appointed Ipswich manager
23 Apr 09 |  Ipswich
The real story behind that beard
10 Dec 08 |  Football
A bitter end for Keane
04 Dec 08 |  Sunderland
Roy Keane's career in photos
04 Dec 08 |  Photo Galleries
Keane resigns as Sunderland boss
04 Dec 08 |  Sunderland

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